- Key messages should be stated at the start of board packs and it should be clear what the board is being asked to note or action.
- Directors can be personally liable for decisions. When presenting financials, always explain risks and opportunities.
- Board directors are an excellent source of expertise and guidance for managers.
Chartered accountants working in business are often asked to distill and share information to assist a board of directors with decision making. There are some tried and tested methods to ensure this important task is done efficiently and effectively.
It all starts with understanding the role the finance team should play in communicating with the board, says George Bogdanovic CA, General Manager Financial Performance and Analysis at icare NSW.
“A common trap when presenting to the board is to assume that you must present a final recommendation or conclusion without inviting challenge or input from the board. In fact, your job is to seek the board’s guidance by equipping directors with all the relevant facts and insights they require to draw their own conclusions.”
In other words, the task is to communicate your message in a clear, strategic and impartial way. In every communication with the board, finance managers need to demonstrate an understanding of the organisation’s strategy, key performance indicators and consideration of pros and cons, says Bogdanovic. “You should also give the board the opportunity to provide their perspective on your approach.”
In order to do this, Bogdanovic recommends these proven tips:
1. Start by asking ‘Why?’
Clarify the purpose of your communication up front. Is it to seek guidance from the board on a proposed strategy? Provide ongoing performance monitoring? Conduct a deep dive into a specific area of strategic interest to obtain the board’s guidance?
2. Know the board
Understand the needs of the board. This includes knowing the areas of specialty of individual board members and also areas where board members may benefit from more information. “This could include providing a simple explanation of highly complex technical jargon or accounting methods,” suggests Bogdanovic. “And after you have presented information to the board, seek their feedback to ensure you are hitting the mark and improving your communications in the future.”
3. Get to the point
Directors are typically time-constrained and most board meeting agendas contain multiple issues to review and discuss. Resist the temptation to include exhaustive background data in your board communication, or every possible variable. Instead focus on the most important points. Use visual cues such as traffic lights (red, green, amber) to highlight particular numbers, or link between numbers quoted in text and in accompanying tables.
Related: Guide to presenting financial details visually
Writing for Acuity magazine, Scott Berinato from Harvard Business Review shares a series of practical ways to dramatically improve your charts and provide clarity for your audiences.
4. Be transparent
Depending on the context of your board, there is every chance the directors are personally liable for corporate fault. This includes acting on, or not acting on, information provided to them by management.“Ensure you highlight the most pertinent information in your board communication, so that they’re aware of areas of concern, risk or significance,” says Bogdanovic. “These should be clearly stated, not buried amidst a mass of data and narrative.”
5. Keep the board updated
When reporting on a problem to the board, take the time to present well-reasoned solutions and courses of action to manage the issue. Then ensure you carry out the agreed approach and keep the board appraised of progress.
6. Think ahead
The board’s job is to look at the bigger picture for the organisation. This requires a realistic and timely appraisal of future prospects from management. “The financials and indicators you present should highlight lead and lag indicators,” says Bogdanovic. “Give the board a holistic view of how the organisation is progressing against its key objectives. Show the impact of key decisions already made, as well as the impact of what is happening in the wider marketplace.”
If you’re asked to prepare and deliver a presentation for the board, give yourself the best chance of success by rehearsing. Put your draft presentation together early, then present it to someone who isn’t familiar with the issues, or with the technicalities of the situation. Encourage them to ask questions and point out any areas that are confusing or unclear. Then refine your presentation in response to their feedback.
This article has been informed by insights and guidance from several chartered accountants, including Ubaldo Adorna CA, Brendon Glass CA and George Bogdanovic CA.
Andy McLean is the former publisher of Acuity and now a writer and content marketing consultant. www.andymclean.net
Related: Guide to presenting to the board
To read more detailed tips and advice on how to present financial information to the board see this Chartered Accountants ANZ guide.